HELP US: Ross McInnes with his friesian dairy cattle at his Harrisville farm.
HELP US: Ross McInnes with his friesian dairy cattle at his Harrisville farm. Claudia Baxter

What dairy producers recieve is a ‘pittance’

COLES was the taboo word of the evening at the Queensland Dairyfarmers’ Organisation and Australian Dairy Farmers forum held Tuesday evening.

A crowd of 60 farmers turned out to the event at Warwick’s RSL, most waiting until the evening’s end to voice their concerns for the industry.

Ben Stapley, the CEO of Australian Dairy Farmers, was first to speak, introducing himself and speaking postively of the dairy industry’s future.

“I’m not a farmer,” he said.

“I’ve worked in industry advocacy and coming into dairy farming and I see enormous opportunity for economic growth.”

Audible scoffs rippled through the room, with the recent price slash from Australia's largest dairy processor Murray Goulburn a hot topic.

“We’re unsure of the impacts of the announcement, but Australian dairy farmers may fundamentally be disappointed,” Mr Stapley said. “The impact is yet to be fully understood and our focus is to make sure farmers have the support they need.

“It’s important that farmers don’t make rash decisions during this time.”

Mr Stapley spoke positively of the recent Federal Government decision to embrace an “effects test’ to prevent big companies wielding too much market power.

“Coles and Woolworths now need to prove that their $1 isn’t affecting production,” Mr Stapley said, “instead of us proving that they are.”

After talks by executive officer for Subtropical Dairy Brad Granzin and Queensland Dairyfarmers’ Ogranisation president Brian Tessman, the floor was opened to questions.

By the second question, talk was on Murray Goulburn and Coles. “There’s not a lot I can say,” Mr Stapley said.

“But we’re already in negotiations with Coles and Woolworths and it’s at a political level.”

The conversation moved to the announcement from Coles they would be launching a consumer-driven milk fund, with 20 cents from every litre of milk going back into Victorian farmers’ pockets.

“They’re saying they’re not going to flog farmers anymore,” Mr Stapley said.

“It means they’ve taken down their path of strategy.”

The audience appeared skeptical.

“Media spin,” one attendee quietly laughed.

Mr Tessman was more vocal in his skepticism.

“They wanted something that looked like they were sending help back to dairy farmers and get the heat off themselves,” he said.

“It seems incredibly opportunistic at this moment.”

One farmer asked directly what the proposed fund would provide.

“We are yet to work out exactly how this fund will work,” Mr Stapley replied.

“There seems to be a lot of uncertainty out there and we need to sit down and what it is they are proposing, who they want to target and how this is going to work.

Coles has announced it will establish a new milk brand that will pay 20 cents a litre to an independent fund, aimed at supporting the 2600 farmers affected by last month's price cut.

“The public thinks, and no fault of theirs, think that every litre those farmers produce, they’re going to get 20 cents,” one farmer said. “And in actual fact, they’re not.”

Farmer and QDO vice-president Ross McInnes crunched the proposed plan’s figures out loud. “It’s a slight help,” Ross McInnes said.

“But it’s a pittance when you look at what’s needed.”



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